Alma Cogan was an English singer of traditional pop music in the 1950s and early 1960s. Dubbed the "Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice," she was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era.
Born Alma Angela Cohen on May 19, 1932 in White Chapel, England of Russian-Romanian Jewish descent, Alma was one of three children. Her father worked as a haberdasher and moved the family around often. One of Cogan's early homes was over his shop in Worthing, Sussex.
Although Jewish, Cogan attended St Joseph's Convent School in Reading. Her mother who had show business aspirations for both her daughters, naming Alma after silent screen star Alma Taylor. She first performed in public at a charity show at the Palace Theatre in Reading, and at eleven, competed in the "Sussex Queen of Song" contest held at a Brighton hotel, winning a prize of £5.
At 14, she was recommended by Vera Lynn for a variety show at the Grand Theatre in Brighton. At 16, she was rejected by bandleader Ted Heath, later regretting his decision. Cogan later found work singing at tea dances, while also studying dress design at Worthing Art College and soon appearing in the musical, "High Button Shoes" and the revue, "Sauce Tartare." In 1949, she became resident singer at the Cumberland Hotel, where she was spotted by Walter Ridley, who became her coach. Cogan first released the songs "To Be Worthy of You" and "Would You" in 1952. She also appeared regularly on the BBC's radio show, "Gently Bentley" before becoming the vocalist for "Take It From Here," a British radio comedy programme broadcast by the BBC between 1948 and 1960.
In 1953, Alma broke into a giggle while recording "If I Had a Golden Umbrella" and was dubbed the "Girl with the giggle." She played up the effect on later recordings.
Many of her recordings would be covers of U.S. hits, especially those recorded by Rosemary Clooney, Teresa Brewer, Georgia Gibbs, Joni James and Dinah Shore. One of these covers, "Bell Bottom Blues", became her first hit, reaching #4 in April 1954. She would appear in the UK Singles Chart eighteen times in the 1950s, with "Dreamboat" reaching #1. Other hits from this period include "I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango," "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," "Sugartime" and "The Story of My Life. Her first album, "I Love to Sing," was released in 1958.
Cogan was one of the first UK record artists to appear frequently on television. She appeared on several shows, including several appearances on "The Benny Hill Show" on the BBC and her own series in 1957. She topped the annual NME reader's poll as "Outstanding British Female Singer" four times between 1956 and 1960.
By the 1960s, Cogan's style of music fell out out of favor with the popularity of The Beatles. Despite their contrast in styles, she eventually became friends with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Considered "square," her highest 1960s chart ranking in UK would be #26 with "We Got Love." Most of her successes at this time were abroad, notably in Sweden and Japan, as she was good at singing in foreign languages. Although she failed to return to the UK charts, she reduced another record in 1963, "Just Once More," which was co-written by her under a pseudonym and her long-time pianist Stan Foster. Her 1964 record, "It's You," was also a Cogan-Foster collaboration, although this time she was credited under her own name.
She remained a popular figure on the UK show-business scene, being offered the part of Nancy in "Oliver!" and appearing on the teenage hit-show "Ready Steady Go!" while headlining at the Talk of the Town.
Continuing to try to update her image, Cogan tried re-releasing old and familiar songs, but by 1965, record producers were becoming dissatisfied with Cogan's work. It was also clear that her health was failing. While using injections to lose weight, she collapsed in 1966 after two performances and had to be treated for stomach cancer. That August, she made her final TV appearance on the guest-spot of "International Cabaret." The next month, she collapsed again while touring Sweden to promote "Hello Baby," recorded exclusively for the Swedish market. At London's Middlesex Hospital, she succumbed to ovarian cancer on October 26, 1966 at the age of 34. She was buried at Bushey Jewish Cemetery in Hertfordshire.